Derrick Ashong

Patriotism as a National Decoy

I woke up this morning with my mind set on freedom. It was not a pleasant feeling. It came over me around one a.m. as a throbbing pain in my right armpit.

I turned over and went back to sleep. Still, I found no comfort. I dreamt of pain. I dreamt of the droning ache of fear in the face of truth. In my dream I heard whispered words, like Rwanda, Kosovo, Auschwitz, Palestine, America. I saw no faces; I saw no bodies. I simply felt pain. I woke up around four a.m. unable to withstand the hurt in my mind.

You see I bear a heavy burden, and sometimes it hurts to carry it. It is a burden I imagine to be similar to that felt by a heroine addict or a crack fiend. A need for something you know is killing you. I've never been enslaved to substance, so I can only imagine how such a person feels. But I know what it feels to crave truth and I can feel the truth sucking the spirit from my bones.

It feels like a throbbing pain in my right armpit.

As a nation, we have collectively chosen to cede truth in favor of comfort. We, the self-described "leaders of the free world," are remarkably willing to relinquish our own freedoms at the first sign of danger. I just read an article discussing the University of South Florida's recent dismissal of a professor on the grounds that his Islamist views are an economic danger to the university.

It seems we who cry freedom are now too afraid to stand up for it within our own borders. What good is freedom of speech if you're afraid to speak your mind?

Today we use patriotism as a national decoy to distract the will of those who might otherwise enlist in the fight for liberty. There is a sad complicity in the silence of those of us who seek truth, and who seeing that death -- economic, social, professional, political and literal -- stands guard at her gate, quietly ride the tide of fear.

How many Americans were patriots a year ago? How many of our children didn't know the words to the "Star Spangled Banner"? How many of our citizens didn't know the Preamble to the Constitution? How many of them still don't? How can you profess to support something you don't even know?

Because if America knew the ideals which gave birth to her, she would rather go down fighting than sliding ignorant into a mire of selective truth and partial justice. These ideals were greater even than the men who espoused them, for even they had not the courage to live up to their own promise of freedom. But if indeed they were great, it is because they were brave enough to dream beyond themselves and in so doing they gave us the gift of hope.

Last night I dreamt of pain. It started in my right armpit and swallowed my soul. Give me liberty: the alternative is more than I can bear.

Derrick Nana Kwesi Abaka Ashong is a musician, actor and writer. He lectures widely about the influence of popular culture on individual identity.


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